As people who follow me at Notes already know, it has been a stressful and uncertain time for my husband and I these past several months. His fledgling freelance graphic design business went through a slow period, and our ship began taking on water. We have been listing badly. “It’s expensive to not have enough money,” Leah wrote in this vivid and unfortunately accurate account of what happens in present-day America to those who become financially vulnerable (think of bleeding into shark-infested water).

Business has picked up again, but it may be too late. We are trying to refinance our house to consolidate our debt and give us a small cash cushion against the next downturn, but our credit is so damaged by the past six months, the deal has been touch and go. We will know this week whether we can close on it, or whether we will have to sell. Either way, I will be relieved to be out from under the constant uncertainty, the feeling of being held hostage to faceless others. I don’t think I have experienced prolonged stress like this since the year my first marriage was breaking up.

I was 25 years old then; this Friday I will turn 38. In the years in between, I have acquired some wisdom, and I wouldn’t surrender a bit of it, not even if it meant I could get all my collagen back, plus interest.

Wisdom like knowing the power of “the next right thing.”

It’s easy to become overwhelmed in the face of a problem without an immediate solution. Our minds tend to race ahead to every possible outcome. We shift into high gear, a flight or fight response. We obsess, project, react.

When I got the phone call last week that our refi was in jeopardy, I had all those impulses. My mind immediately began to eat itself. Becoming wiser doesn’t mean becoming less human. Flight or fight is still the first line of defense when there is a threat, real or perceived. But as I get older, I find the length of time I stay there gets shorter and shorter. Other, learned, responses kick in and take over.

While part of me is still running in circles, screaming that the sky is falling, the wiser part takes a deep breath and says, Okay. What is the next right thing?

It’s a funny thing. The next right thing is almost always something very simple and manageable, no matter what is happening. Chances are, the next right thing is to start supper. To keep an appointment. Go for a walk. Pick up the kids. You do that next right thing. And then the next. And the next. One next right thing at a time. And while you’re doing that, the sky somehow keeps from falling. Often as not, things have a way of getting worked out while you were busy with the things that are truly necessary, immediate, and obvious.

I don’t know how it works. But it does. Try it today, and come back and tell me about it.